The garden, so slow to emerge this spring....and this summer...finally is kicking in. If it stays nice until Halloween, I may even harvest an eggplant.
As it is, the broccoli suddenly has attained hedgelike proportions, sporting heads on foot-long stalks. One of them has even burst into a lovely bouquet of butter-yellow blossoms, which of course means that its food value now has morphed into a floral motif.
Why did I plant six broccoli? Because they all sprouted, that's why, and I find it difficult to do the Sophie's choice thing, figuring that Nature or her four (and counting) rabbits of the Apocalypse will winnow the field.
But no. The rabbits went after the green beans - three replantings' worth - and left the broccoli be, which was why I found myself flipping to the recipe index of "A Platter of Figs," hoping that David had an inspiring take on broccoli. Alas, it went from "Bowles, Paul" to "butter, jalapeno."
I don't fault the book. No particular reason it should have a broccoli recipe. (Although what could it hurt?) The Barefoot Contessa came to the rescue, and I WILL be making Roasted Broccoli with garlic again, finished with pine nuts, grated Parmesan and lemon juice and rind.
OK, so what are my other options? Starch always eases a thwarted mind, and I hadn’t even begun to dig into the potatoes yet, so I flipped to “P” to see “Potato(oes) mashed with carrots and saffron.”
By coincidence…or fate, karma, serendipity or dumb luck…I had been exploring the world of saffron for a demo this week at the Minnesota State Fair. “Baking with Saffron” was my topic, a suggestion from the demo host, Klecko, a master baker and founder of the St. Paul Bread Club, which we’ll get to someday.
Saffron had been mildly intriguing over the years, partly because it couples this hyper-exotic image – world’s most expensive spice – with an aroma that I’ve always found, charitably, rank. My research turned up more pejorative terms: bitter, iodine, pungent. It’s the signature ingredient of St. Lucia Rolls, but that’s the Swedes for you, always putting on the dog.
Still, I had some on hand, from past forays in paella and such, and so this seemed an opportune time to harvest some root vegetables, delve into saffron, and put something of sustenance on the table.
Again, I was struck by the utter simplicity of Tanis’s recipe. The method is a paragraph: Boil potatoes and carrots in salted water until tender. Drain and add a little crumbled saffron, butter and grated lemon zest. Mash and thin with milk.
Clearly he has faith in his book being purchased by experienced cooks. And perhaps anyone who owns saffron knows the disaster that lurks within a mere thread too many being crumbled. In my homework for the demo, I’d run across a rule of thumb, that if you can clearly smell saffron in the finished product, you’ve used too much. And so “a little crumbled saffron” seems fraught with peril. Here’s an spice that is sold by the gram – by the 0.04 ounce. A little? Is that a smidge or a skosch? A pinch or one-quarter teaspoon?
I erred on the timid side, rubbing a half-dozen threads into the potatoes and carrots. It was just right for me, perhaps a bit much for my husband, who gamely tasted, considered and concluded: Eh.
To which I responded, “Eh.”
The dish wasn’t bad; it just had saffron in it, which I have now placed in that pantheon of culinary love/hate relationships – a list notably headed by cilantro.
I love cilantro. So the columns are now officially even.